Every year, the amount of e-waste that is recorded is rising rapidly. With the constant and rapid advances in technologies, there is a constant consumer demand for the latest leading mobile phones, laptops, computers, and any other form of electronic devices. With a constant ‘out with the old’ and ‘in with the new’ consumer culture, the rise in the level of e-waste looks set to continue. In 2018, there was approximately 50 million tonnes of e-waste produced worldwide. Of this, it is estimated that only 12.5% of it is actually recycled, so there is a huge scope for growth.
So, what is urban mining and how does it come in to play? Well, it is estimated that there is around 40 to 50 times more gold and other precious metals within e-waste products such as mobile phones, computers and other forms of electronics than what there is the traditionally ore mining areas.
In addition to this, extracting precious metals from e-waste is said to cost over 13 times more than what it costs to extract them from traditional mining ore methods.
So, this is where the practice of urban mining comes in. Firstly, urban mining involves the recovery of electronic e-waste. Once collected it is then transported to a recycling depot in the same sense as what happens to any other recyclable product. The e-waste is then sorted into product categories and once this has been done, the e-waste is sent to an urban mining plant where a chemical engineering process recover the metals from the e-waste.
There are already concerns about the depleting available supply of certain minerals. Gold, silver, cobalt, rhodium, indium and zinc have all been put on a shortlist of some of the minerals that are believed to be unavailable to mine in the next 15 to 20 years, thus highlighting the need for a far more advanced urban mining system.
There are over 60 elements within mobiles alone, all containing high levels of gold, silver, palladium, platinum, indium, copper, nickel, tin and tantalum – all of which can be extracted from mobile e-waste. Consumer demand for products ever increasing within a world where resources are becoming depleted, one thing is for sure – the need for urban mining is only ever going to increase.